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(News Focus) N.K.'s new ICBM test to dampen Moon's rapprochement approach

2017/07/29 14:08

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SEOUL, July 29 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) will likely dampen President Moon Jae-in's push for dialogue with the North, paving the way for Seoul to focus on sanctions on Pyongyang for a while, experts said Saturday.

The North test-fired what it claimed to be an ICBM into the East Sea in an abrupt way late Friday, claiming that all the U.S. mainland is within its striking range. It followed a similar test on July 4.

The late night launch was unexpected as North Korea skipped widely expected provocative acts Thursday, the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Experts said that the North's provocation will inevitably limit leeway for Moon to seek engagement with the wayward neighbor as the international community is expected to further tighten sanctions on the North.

"The latest test confirmed the North's leader Kim Jong-un's belligerence, showing that it is determined to confront South Korea and the United States," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute.

The missile launch came as Seoul has been awaiting North Korea's response to its latest offer for dialogue aimed at easing military tensions, and resolving and humanitarian issues.

This file photo taken on July 6, 2017, shows President Moon Jae-in delivering a speech in Berlin over his vision for bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula. (Yonhap) This file photo taken on July 6, 2017, shows President Moon Jae-in delivering a speech in Berlin over his vision for bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula. (Yonhap)

On July 17, Seoul proposed holding inter-Korean military talks on easing border tensions four days later and Red Cross talks Tuesday to discuss the resumption of families separated by the war. It was a follow-up to Moon's vision for bringing peace to the divided peninsula unveiled during a speech in Berlin in early July.

Moon, a supporter of South Korea's previous "sunshine" policy of engaging North Korea, took office in May with pledges to take a dual-track approach of using pressure and engagement to denuclearize the North and reduce tensions on the peninsula.

Some critics raised concerns about Moon's policy, claiming that it may weaken united fronts by the international community to tighten the screws on the North.

Despite such concerns, South Korea said that long-strained inter-Korean relations do not help resolve North Korea's nuclear issue, vowing to take a "leading" role in handling issues on the peninsula.

But Pyongyang answered Moon's proposal with an improved capability of its long-range missile, causing a dilemma for Moon, analysts say.

North Korea has condemned Moon's dual-track policy, saying that dialogue cannot go with sanctions.

"There will be no change in the government's principle of seeking dialogue and sanctions," a government official said. "But for the time being, the focus will be shifted to sanctions and pressure."

   After the missile test, Moon said that if the latest test is confirmed as an ICBM launch, North Korea is deemed as nearing the threshold of a "red line." He also ordered government officials to consider slapping fresh unilateral sanctions against the North if necessary.

South Korea imposed two sets of unilateral sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang's nuclear tests in January and September last year. It blacklisted scores of North Korean officials and entities suspected of assisting the North's weapons development.

Experts said that the North is likely to continue to raise tensions until August when Seoul and Washington plan to conduct their annual joint military exercise.

The North has long denounced the military drill as a war rehearsal for northern invasion, despite Seoul and Washington's reassurance that it is defensive in nature.

"North Korea is likely to continue its provocations until August by taking into account the United Nations Security Council's work on a new sanctions resolution and the joint military drill," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. "But probably after September, the North may attempt to shift to dialogue."

  

This file photo carried by North Korea's state media shows North Korea's test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) This file photo carried by North Korea's state media shows North Korea's test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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